Author, instructor, and pet safety guru, Denise Fleck, recently taught us what to do if our dog is stung by a bee – allergic or inflammatory reactions are possible if pets tangle with the wrong insects, and knowing how to handle the situation could save your pet’s life. Today she’s back to help us teach our dogs how to swim.
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Just because your dog’s last name is “Retriever” doesn’t mean he knows how to swim! However, you can help him beat the heat during the long dog days of summer with doggy swimming lessons. That’s right! Kids take swimming lessons, and now your dog can, too.
Every year, an estimated 10,000 dogs drown in the United States – mostly because they easily found their way into a pool, but couldn’t find their way out. Just like people, once an animal is in the water, they quickly tire splashing about – so it is crucial they learn how to stay afloat or get out of the water.
Many places around the country teach dogs to swim, and there are benefits besides safety. Swimming can also be a safe aerobic exercise for dogs with arthritis, recovering from surgery, or those that are overweight, since the water takes pressure off the joints while allowing them to burn calories.
Kelly Armstrong of Clever Paws Dog Training teaches dogs to swim at Camp Gone to the Dogs in Marlboro, Vermont, and says, “Swimming allows dogs to burn off excess energy. It is such great exercise that a lot of my clients with performance dogs (those that compete in agility, flyball, herding, frisbee, tracking and obedience) use swimming to keep their dogs in top physical condition, because the better conditioned a dog is, the less likely he is to injure himself.”
Lessons can also build confidence in your dog in a safe environment, but don’t all dogs just know how to swim?! Actually, some don’t even like to get their paws wet, while others are not naturally built for water sports. The short-necked, large-chested breeds like Bulldogs often have trouble keeping their heads above water, and even some Retrievers and Spaniels may need a little practice to perfect their “doggie paddle.”
So how do you determine whether your dog is a natural born swimmer? One telltale sign is if he insists on a raft …
Actually, if your pooch uses only his front legs to paddle and brings his paws clear out of the water, slapping at it, swimming is not one of his inborn skills. With a little support from you under his belly, your pup can learn to also use his hind legs and tail when he swims.
When teaching your dog to swim, a few simple rules can make for a lifetime of fun:
Practice Safety First
- NEVER EVER leave your dog unsupervised around the water! Install a pool fence or safety alarm, and make sure he knows where the steps or ramp are located. Some trainers recommend placing a large vertical marker, such as a plant or a flag, by the steps to help your dog orient himself.
- Teach him to find the steps by gently placing him in the water with his feet on the top step and saying “steps” while he gains his footing. Then, take him a short distance away and let him swim to the steps, very gradually increasing the distance. Stay in the shallow end, and keep the lessons short – no more than ten minutes.
- During your lessons, maintain control of your dog by using a leash or long line attached to a doggie life jacket or harness. Dogs can’t tread water like humans and can tire quickly, unable to rest with their feet on the bottom!
- If you swim in lakes or other natural bodies of water, vaccinate your dog against Giardia which can cause vomiting and diarrhea and can be passed along to you! Avoid water with a strong current, and stay away from boating and fishing areas where your furry friend’s paw may discover a hook or worse. Also watch out for stumps or rocks hidden in the water that your dog could land on when jumping.
- Avoid swimming in water over your own head. A panicked pooch may try to “climb aboard” and push you under.
- Dogs can get sunburned, too – especially around the nose and ears, so talk to your veterinarian about sunscreen made for pets, and give your dog plenty of time in the shade.
- Food stays in your dog’s stomach longer than in yours, so to prevent bloat, wait 1 ½-2 hours after eating before taking a swim.
- Know Pet First Aid and brush up on your skills regularly. Also, have the directions to the nearest Animal ER on hand – just in case!
Ease Him In
- Avoid bad experiences. Make sure the water isn’t too cold, and never throw or push your dog into the water. Lure him with a toy or treat on to pool steps or the gradual slope of a lake. Many dogs will wade in as long as they can feel the bottom.
Take a Break
- Some dogs love the water and won’t stop. If your dog starts breathing heavily or if his back end begins to sag in the water, it’s time to get out and take a rest.
- Chlorine can irritate skin and eyes, and bacteria from lakes or rivers can make your pet sick. After swimming, rinse or shampoo your dog’s coat, and take special care to dry out his ears well.
- Although dogs generally want to please us, you’ll know if your dog is truly enjoying the water. Every sport is not for everyone or every dog! Wading in the kiddie pool may be more his speed, or he just may be a land-lover at heart – but if your dog is having fun…you will too!
- Once he knows how to say afloat and how to get out of the water, there are many other fun activities you can do with your canine buddy: canoeing, kayaking, dock diving, retrieving contests, and even team swims await you and your four-legged Michael Phelps or Amanda Beard.
- Dock Jumping uses a dog’s drive to see how far he can jump off a 40 foot dock into a 40 foot pool of water. According to Splash Dogs’ 2007 Jr. Handler of the Year, Annie H., age 11 of Reno, NV, “Most dogs and their handlers are there for the fun, but they also get plenty of exercise.” Annie competes with her 5-year-old Australian Cattle Dog Pepper and says, “I hope more kids give it a try because it really is a great way to have fun with your dog, learn sportsmanship, and make new friends.”
Remember to be patient and keep your lessons short, and before you know it you and your dog will be beating the heat and having a great time splashing together!
About the Author: For 16 years Denise Fleck’s Sunny-dog Ink motto has been “Helping people to help their pets,” and she has…teaching more than 10,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills and millions more on national television segments, yet better pet parenting is still a secret in many communities. In her 2016 role as Pet Safety Crusader™, Denise will journey across the Southern U.S. beginning September 15th to “Be the one who makes a difference” by helping large numbers of people help their pets in one concerted effort! Pet First Aid classes, Pet Disaster Preparedness training and readings of her children’s books will be part of the fun as she travels 10,000 miles to 18 cities — from California to Florida, north to Virginia, across to Tennessee, down to Arkansas and back across the Southwest. Super hero sponsors are needed to be the ‘wheels beneath her RV.’
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